Senior Legal Fellow and Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
Institute for Constitutional Government
The Heritage Foundation
Virtual Testimony on April 15, 2021
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
State Government Committee
I appreciate the invitation to testify here today. I am testifying in my personal capacity and not on behalf of the Heritage Foundation.
The number one goal of legislators when it comes to elections should be providing both access and security – one does not prevent the other. You can have both full access and you can have security and having security does not prevent access. Unfortunately, and I hate to say this, but your state has a long history of election fraud. The state just settled a case and finally agreed to take 20,000 individuals who are dead, but have been on the voter rolls for years, off the rolls. One of your prior secretaries of state had to resign after he admitted that thousands of aliens were being registered to vote without any state official realizing that was happening.
Our “Election Fraud Database” that we maintain at the Heritage Foundation, which is just a sampling of proven cases, is not a comprehensive list but it has many cases from Pennsylvania on everything from absentee ballot fraud to impersonation fraud at the polls. I am sure you remember the 1993 Special State Senate Election that was overturned in Pennsylvania, the winner of which would determine which political party controlled the state senate. It was overturned because of widespread absentee ballot fraud.
Just last year, an election judge in Philadelphia pled guilty to accepting bribes to stuff fraudulent ballots into voting machines there for multiple candidates. He had done it in multiple elections. Not too long after he pleaded guilty, the U.S. Attorney indicted a former congressman, Michael Myers, who is now a political consultant, as the individual who was bribing him to do that. So all of these are issues that you need to deal with.
I have not submitted written testimony, but what I did submit was a Fact Sheet that Heritage published on February 1 entitled “The Facts About Election Integrity and the Need for States to Fix Their Election Systems.” It contains a long series of recommendations on how we believe states should fix the vulnerabilities in their system.
I should tell you that while I do work at a think tank now, I have been a county election official in two different states in both Virginia and Georgia. So I have on-the-ground experience in elections, including voter registration and running elections on Election Day.
There are a whole series of recommendations in that Fact Sheet. I am just going to cover a few of them. Probably the most basic security measure you need, and that every state needs, is requiring an ID to vote both in-person and by absentee ballot. Every single state that has put this in has also put in a provision that provides a free ID to anyone who does not already have one. The states that have put these ID requirements in place like Georgia, Indiana, and elsewhere have had no problems.
For example, Georgia and Indiana’s ID laws have been in place since 2008. As opposed to the constant claim you hear that ID requirements depress voter turned out, in fact, that did not happen in either state. Instead, turnout increased dramatically. They have had record turnout and that has been the general experience of other states with ID requirements.
You also need a process in place to verify citizenship. That includes election officials verifying information against DMV records to check for individuals who come in to get a driver's license and do so as aliens. For example, aliens who are in the country legally but have a driver’s license, election officials need to check that information to make sure that person has not registered to vote.
There is also no reason election officials should not be using the federal E-Verify system. Every employer in Pennsylvania as in the rest of the country, under federal law, has to verify that someone they are hiring is either a U.S. Citizen or an alien who is here legally and has a work permit. There is no reason for the state not to use that kind of information that is available already for employers through E-Verify.
You should also be using jury lists for exactly the same thing. When individuals are called for jury duty by your state courts, they have to answer under oath a series of questions, including: are you a citizen of the United States? The courts, as far as I am aware, get their jury lists usually from voter registration lists. When someone is excused from jury duty, that information needs to be sent back to election officials so that person can be taken off the rolls as well as if they are excused because they are a felon and have not had their right to vote restored. Or if they have moved out of the state. That is important information election officials should receive.
Not only should you require the state courts to do that, but you should realize that federal courts in every state go to state election officials to ask for that state’s voter registration list. That is the list they use to call people for federal jury duty. You should condition providing that information to federal courts on them sending back to you information on anyone called for federal jury duty who is excused for the same reasons: they are not a U.S. Citizen; they have moved out of state, etc. That is all information you should be getting.
Your statewide voter registration list needs to be redesigned so it is interoperable with other state databases. So that election officials can, as frequently as possible and at least on a monthly basis, run data comparisons, not just with DMV, but with your vital records department, your corrections department, and other state agencies that have information affecting both the eligibility of voters and their location.
This actually is going to be a benefit to voters. For example, if someone goes in to get a new driver's license because they have changed residential addresses, that should be tied into the voter registration system so that their voter registration address will also be changed for them. That will avoid them showing up at a new polling place when they are still registered at the old one.
States also are not taking advantage of, and counties are not taking advantage of, county tax records. What do I mean by that? What is the number one goal of county governments in Pennsylvania and frankly, every other state? It is to collect property taxes because that is what pays for county government services. That means that they have detailed information on every single address in a county.
Yet election officials are not taking advantage of that in almost any state. How should they take advantage of that? One of the problems that we have found in almost every state is individuals who are registering to vote not registering at a residential address, which is a requirement under the law, and even though that is essential, election officials are not checking that. Obviously, if they check with county tax records, they will find out if someone is registering at a commercial address, a vacant lot, a U.S. Post Office, or other places that affect the voter’s registration and eligibility.
When a new registration comes in, they should be checking county tax records to see if it is really a residential home or a commercial or industrial property where you are not allowed to register. But they also should be checking it to see whether, for example, if it is a single family home, then they should be checking the registration list to see how many other people are registered at that address. Because if that check shows that 40 people are registered at a single family home, that should be a red flag to election officials. They need to investigate because there is a potential that individuals who no longer live there are still registered there, or that there have been fraudulent registrations submitted.
On absentee ballots, I want to support some of the testimony earlier by Jonathan Bechtle – you do need a witness signature requirement. That is a basic security measure for absentee ballots. You should also be sure that you ban vote trafficking, what others call vote harvesting. Obviously, an individual needs to be able to deliver their absentee ballot themselves as well as a member of their family or a designated caregiver.
But allowing third party strangers, political consultants, party activists, or campaign staffers to get their hands on absentee ballots, risks those ballots being altered or changed as happened in North Carolina and the ninth congressional district race in 2018. But it also risks allowing those same individuals again, who have a stake in the outcome of the election, to pressure and coerce voters in their homes where there is no election official to prevent that from happening.
You need to be sure that observers have full access to the entire process. Transparency is the hallmark of a good election. Observers from both political parties need to have complete and full access. That means being able to see what is going on, not being put so far away that they cannot observe what is actually happening. Frankly, you need to put procedures in place so that election officials who break that law and who do not allow observers to effectively observe are disciplined or possibly terminated for doing that. That is why the U.S. government sends observers all over the world through State Department programs, because that kind of transparency is essential to fair and secure elections
[This transcript has been edited for brevity and conciseness and to add citations to references.]